2006 November 12 Sunday
Amir Taheri Advocates For Regime Change In Iran

Writing in the Jewish political opinion publication Commentary magazine secular Iranian exile writer Amir Taheri makes familiar arguments for regime change in Iran.

Bush had concluded that the terrorist attacks on the U.S. had flowed out of six decades of American support for a Middle East status quo dominated by reactionary and often despotic regimes. To ensure its own safety, America now had to help democratize the region. The Islamic Republic, by contrast, saw the elimination of its two principal regional enemies as a “gift from Allah,” and an opportunity to advance its own, contrary vision of the Middle East as the emergent core of a radical Islamist superpower under Iranian leadership.

But who eliminated Iran's chief enemy, Saddam Hussein's regime? George W. Bush acting on his on incorrect gut feeling and with the very strong backing of a chorus of neocons writing and talking in favor of this policy.

Also, Taheri simply states Bush's conclusion about the cause of the terrorist threat as it if is a correct starting point for later analysis. Never mind the last few years of terrible events in Iraq which discredit Bush's analysis. Taheri just skips over that part since it works against the argument he's trying to build for regime change in Teheran.

Next Taheri tries again to make an appeal to authority to claim that Iran is the chief obstacle to Bush's democratization strategy.

By the start of the second term, however, the Bush administration had identified the Islamic Republic as a principal obstacle to the President’s policy of democratization.

News flash for Amir Taheri: The principal obstacle for the democratization fantasy for the Middle East is that the Arabs hold beliefs and have values that are incompatible with even semi-liberal democracy. The neocons can blame Iran all they want but the Shias and Sunnis who are slugging it out in Baghdad are not doing so at Iran's behest. They needed no outside help in order to see each other as rivals for control of Iraq.

In fact, the slugfest in Iraq makes Iran's geopolitical ambitions even less likely to be realized. The Sunnis going to Iraq to fight in the insurgency are fighting for fellow Sunnis and against Shias. Well, the Sunnis are the majority of all Arabs on the Arabian peninsula. Iran's ambitions are checked by the fact that the Iranians are not Sunnis and Iranians are not Arabs. The Arab Sunnis are not going to accept Iran as the leader of the Middle Eastern Muslims.

Luckily, not only is democratization of the Middle East a fool's errand but it is also not necessary in order to greatly reduce the threat of terrorists to the West. The United States and its allies, working much more vigilantly to root out terrorists and to disrupt terrorist networks, have managed to go over 5 years without another terrorist attack on US soil. We could do even better by keeping Muslims from entering the West and by sending home many who are already here. But you won't read that in Commentary.

Notably, the biggest Middle Eastern terrorist threats now emanate from Pakistan which has a populace too supportive of Al Qaeda for elections to be held there. The Bush Administration complains not a peep that Pervez Musharraf rules there as a military dictator and it speaks volumes of the Bush Administration's current thinking that the US government is not on a campaign to restore democracy to nuclear power Pakistan.

Those Pakistani terrorist plotters in Pakistan are surpassed as threats by Pakistani British citizens living in democratic Britain as sources of real terrorist plots. Somehow the liberal democracy and freedom of Britain does not produce British Pakistanis with friendly and benevolent feelings toward non-Muslim native British. That fact speaks very strongly against the idea that democracy is some kind of panacea against Islamic Jihadist terrorism.

Next Taheri tries to paint a picture of the Iranians orchestrating a big threat against the Gulf Arab emirates.

By now, indeed, Tehran had become actively engaged in undermining the U.S. position in both Afghanistan and Iraq, while creating radical Shiite networks to exert pressure on such American allies as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

Radical Shia networks opposed to Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia? Suppose this is true. Um, we should favor the hostile non-Muslim-hating Wahhabis over the Shias why exactly?

But near as I can tell from reading many news stories the bombs that go off in Saudi Arabia are Sunni bombs set off by more radical Wahhabis or Salafists who think the Saudi royals haven't gone far enough merely by keeping the sexes separated, banning female driving, making women stay totally covered in tents, and the like. The Shias do not figure in this. If the Shias are going to become a threat to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia they will do so as a result of the primal forces that the neocons were instrumental in unleashing in Iraq.

Next Taheri tries to analyse the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Nor was that all: the Islamic Republic was gaining influence over radical Palestinian groups, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas, by supplying them with funds and weapons. Israel’s seizure of the cargo ship Karine A, caught smuggling Iranian arms to a terrorist group tied to Yasir Arafat, and the discovery of seventeen terrorist cells preparing to attack Israel from Jordan in 2002, were clear signals that, where the Palestinian issue was concerned, the Islamic Republic had moved onto the offensive.

Who was instrumental in bringing Hamas to power in the Territories? You might expect Taheri and the neocons to say that Iran played a big role. But those neocon nutters need to go look in the mirror because they and not Iran did the most to make Hamas more powerful.

I hear you asking, the neocons brought Hamas to power? Yes. Natan Sharansky wrote a book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror that made the neocon argument for democracy as the panacea for making Middle Eastern governments and societies more liberal and less terrorist supporting. Sharansky would like us to believe that democracy would change Middle Eastern Muslims so that they would stop joining the Jihad to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel and Western countries. Bush read that book and bought it hook line and sinker. Following the message of that book Bush and Rice then applied pressure to hold elections in the Palestinian Territories. Hamas swept to power democratically helped along by Sharansky, Bush, and the neocons!

I thought perhaps Sharansky was sincere and therefore in error. But a noted political commentator (I can't share his name since I do not have permission to do so) told me this book was Sharansky's idea of being clever. Sharansky set out to make a seemingly highly principled argument about how Israel should never negotiate with a corrupt dictatorshp. Only a democracy could possibly be pure enough of motive to negotiate peace with the Israelis in good faith. The goal of the book, according to this commentator, was to let Israel off the hook so the Israeli government would not have to negotiate with the Palestinians. Whoever thought the President of the United States would take it serious enough to make Palestinian elections happen?

The problem with Sharansky's book is that Bush took it literally. Bush believes like many liberals that liberal democracy is the universal aspiration of all humanity. As some have now learned from the Iraq Debacle (and which was already obvious anyway), no, liberal democracy is not the universal aspiration of mankind and probably not of womankind either. But Bush took the advice of the neoconservatives and supported the election that brought Hamas to power.

This is my whole problem with any argument for some course of action that comes from the neocons. Their track record is just so bad at this point, they've been so wrong so many times on such a monumental scale, that if they make an argument for some course of action it becomes immediately suspect in my mind.

Next Taheri tries to make us think the Iranian mullahs have any sort of chance of extending the area they rule.

To this day, Ahmadinejad has never lost an opportunity to reiterate that the Islamic Republic is as committed to fighting Western democracies as it was when it came to power almost three decades ago. Claiming that he is preparing the ground for the return of the Hidden Imam, a messiah-like figure of Shiite lore, Ahmadinejad considers a “clash of civilizations” to be both inevitable and welcome. Of course, he is ready to talk—so long as the Islamic Republic is not required to make any concessions. In a speech in Zanjan over the summer, Ahmadinejad assured his listeners that the United States would never be permitted to create “an American Middle East.” “The new Middle East,” he told the cheering crowd, “will be Islamic.”

Nor is Ahmadinejad a lone wolf. Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Meshkini, president of the Assembly of Experts and thus, after the “Supreme Guide,” the regime’s second most senior clerical figure, further clarified the extent of Tehran’s ambitions in a September speech to the assembly. The only legitimate government on earth, proclaimed the ayatollah, is the Islamic Republic, and the entire world, starting with the Muslim nations, must be put under the rule of the “Supreme Guide.”

Well, the communists wanted to put the whole world under the dictatorship of the vanguard of the proletariat. They obviously didn't succeed or even come close to succeeding. The United States held more cards and won the Cold War. The imbalance of power between the West and the Iranians is so extremely lopsided (making the Cold War seem like a close race by comparison) that talk of the world coming under the rule of the "Supreme Guide" is just fantasy by the leaders of the faithful.

The biggest obstacle we face to better protecting ourselves from Muslim jihadists comes not from the Muslims but rather from our own neoconservative and liberal leaders. Muslim immigrants have created a huge security threat in Britain and some other European countries. The solution to the Muslim terrorist threat is simple enough: Keep them away from us. Keep them out. Make them stay in their countries and at the same time minimize our own involvement in their civilization. Good fences make good neighbors.

Taheri doesn't see the point of talking with the mullahs because talking with the mullahs has not turned them into fluffy puppies (okay, my phrasing but accurate enough in meaning).

There can be little doubt that Ahmadinejad, Meshkini, and the others have been encouraged in their belligerence by Western statesmen and pundits who insist that no realistic alternative exists to “dialogue” with the Islamic Republic, even if this appears to play into the hands of the regime. As we have seen, however, “talking to the mullahs” is a strategy thoroughly tested over the last quarter-century and repeatedly found wanting. Every U.S. administration has maintained some level of communication, often behind the scenes, with the leadership in Tehran. None of it has succeeded in influencing its fundamental tenor or curbing its radical ambitions.

As a liberal-minded Iranian it is natural that Taheri should be unhappy with the type of government that rules Iran. But that government reflects the Iranian people far more than Taheri would probably admit. He can wish for a better regime in Tehran. But that does not mean that American blood and treasure should be wasted in a futile attempt to change the character, values, and beliefs of the Iranian people.

He claims the Iranian regime behaves as a revolutionary cause.

For as long as the Islamic Republic continues to behave as a revolutionary cause, it will be impossible for others, including the United States, to consider it a partner, let alone a friend or ally.

This is wrong. It behaves as a fundamentalist Shia regime. But the passage of years and the succession of leadership has made it more like states with bureaucracies more interested in their perks and status than in grand causes. Iran's power on the world stage is small.

Taheri undermines his own argument when he concedes the revolutionaries have lost their fervor.

A third harbinger is that the regime’s coercive forces have become increasingly reluctant to defend it against the people. Since 2002, the regular army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the professional police have refused to crush workers’ strikes, student demonstrations, and other manifestations of anti-regime protest. In many instances, the mullahs have been forced to deploy other, often unofficial, means, including the so-called Ansar Hizballah (“Supporters of the Party of God”) and the Baseej Mustadafeen (“Mobilization of the Dispossessed”).

In a nutshell: The neoconservatives oppose the Iranian regime because it advocates (from a safe distance) the destruction of Israel and because Iran has a nuclear weapons program. All the extensive verbiage about Iran and its supposed threat to US interests or its supposed ability to export its revolution is just a smokescreen. The Iranians aren't going to overthrow any other government. They aren't going to invade another country. If they can become a threat to anyone it is only with nuclear weapons.

So the debate about Iran comes down to a simple question: Should anyone be worried if Iran gets the bomb? Should Israel worry? Should the US worry? Should the Saudis worry?

I remain unconvinced that the mullahs would use nukes against Israel. They'd be signing their own death warrant and guaranteeing the end of their regime if they did so. I also remain unconvinced that the mullahs would give nukes to terrorists. If they did that and this was discovered they wouldn't be toast. They'd be a bunch of individual molecules floating in a mushroom cloud in the atmosphere. Again, I do not think they want that outcome.

Still, I do not like the idea of letting yet another Muslim nation get the bomb. Why? Because Islam is an enemy of free societies. The more power enemies of free societies get the worse off we are. But I'm not ready to follow the neocon fools on yet another half-baked scheme of theirs to fix what ails the world.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 November 12 11:55 AM  Elites Neoconservative Menace

Big Bill said at November 12, 2006 5:58 PM:

You may hear the "America is not doing what Israel wants, it is Israel that is doing the dirty work for the West" meme. It has been gaining some currency on Ha'aretz, JPost and in the National Review.

I think the best response is to thank them very kindly for their help, tell them that as grown-ups we can take care of our own national business, and to nicely suggest that they do what they think is necessary to look out for their own interests. In short, cut off the guilt trip at its roots.

Jussi Hämäläinen said at November 13, 2006 6:20 AM:

Speaking of Iran,if the Iranians are on a quest to establish an Islamic empire by force of arms,shouldn't that most worry a small,poor Christian nation bordering said menace?Like Armenia,for instance?Apparently not:


Armenia is deepening what it regards as a strategic relationship with neighboring Iran despite mounting international concern over the Iranian nuclear program and widespread speculation about potential US military action against Tehran. The two countries’ governments have agreed in particular to press ahead with the implementation of more multimillion-dollar energy projects in addition to the ongoing construction of a pipeline that will pump Iranian natural gas to Armenia."(Eurasianet)

Armenians are more concerned with their never-ending blood-and-soil feud with Azerbaijan,and the Turkish blockade,both Muslim countries by the way,than any visions of rolling Iranian tanks emanating,mostly, from the feverish head of Richard Santorum.Note,also that the Iranians don't seem too bothered by any sense of Muslim solidarity over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.Business as usual.

Ned said at November 13, 2006 11:15 AM:

Iran seems to have no problem dealing with Russia and China, two countries that brutally suppress their Muslim populations. And neither country seems particularly worried by Iran's efforts (whatever they may be) to acquire nuclear weapons. Once again, the choice in the Muslim world seems to be between authoritarian regimes (Pakistan, Algeria, Iran under the Shah) and more democratic ones which inevitably assume a fundamentalist character (Iran under the mullahs). Yes, a few Muslim democracies exist. Turkey, for example, where the military keeps the fundamentalists in check, and Malaysia, which is only about 55% Muslim and has a tradition of democracy from the British colonial days. But these are clearly the exceptions.

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